Friday, February 22, 2008

LITTLE SHOP - Sex and the Single Vegetable

Sexually speaking, there is something rich and strange going on in Little Shop of Horrors. Aside from the relentless oral fixation of the whole piece, frustration, abusiveness, and sexual mis-matching abound: Seymour loves Audrey, but in lieu of her attention, nurtures the plant he names in her honor. Audrey chastely loves Seymour, but is trapped with the overbearingly sexual Orin Scrivello, DDS. Orin is Seymour’s evil double – the cool, successful guy Seymour wishes he could be ("Gee, I’d like a Harley machine," he muses, "toolin’ around like I was James Dean!")

Even the hilarious interlude with the masochistic patient is a parody of clashing desires: the patient’s giddy pleasure completely undermines the dentist's sadistic dominance. And isn't it odd that the Dentist, who makes his living excavating and torturing others' mouths, meets his end in the toothy maw of a creature named for his abused girlfriend?

Read more about the weird world of sex in Little Shop after the jump.

The plant serves dual roles, both as Audrey’s twisted doppelganger, and as the embodiment of Seymour’s frustrated desires and pent-up aggression - his id made vegetable. When he’d like to be romancing, he is instead tending to the wilting little bud (which goes limp after Audrey regretfully turns down dinner, because she has a date). The Audrey II design is a masterstroke of ambiguity, both phallic and vaginal at the same time (much like Giger's Alien). Its upright stalk and veiny, bulbous head contrast with its gaping, hungry trap. With no eyes to serve as a character focus, the visual emphasis is on the mouth, with its sensuous lips, jagged teeth and labial, orchid-like interior. Though given a masculine voice and persona, the relentless orality of its behavior, coupled with the feminine name, give the plant disturbing vagina dentata associations. Cementing the link with evil femininity even further, the plant is abetted by a Medusa-like nest of sinuous vines.

Towards the beginning of the film, Seymour gazes through a window as Audrey applies makeup to her black eye, and channels his dissatisfaction into the romantic / comic ballad "Grow For Me." "Oh God, how I mist you! Oh pod, how you tease!" he moans, stroking the wilted, pouty flytrap (according to designer Richard Conway, this puppet’s pouty lips were modeled on Ellen Greene’s.) When he pricks his finger on a rose’s thorn, the answer to his dilemma appears. Sucking on the bleeding finger, he hears an answering sucking noise. Looking around, he is astonished to see the plant is growing erect, its trap making little sucking, kissing motions. In short order he discovers what the plant wants – when he tries to pet it, it snaps hungrily at his bleeding finger, but haughtily refuses to even look at the other hand. Figuring "a few drops" couldn’t hurt, he milks the blood out of his finger, which the plant eagerly laps up. Thus satisfied, it swells.

Next, Seymour is seen taking the now foot-tall plant on a radio show. While Seymour isn’t looking, the plant tries to bite the ass of a female secretary in a blood-red skirt – a liberty that shy Seymour would never attempt.

Soon afterwards, the chorus girls teasingly sing that "Seymour’s having some fun now" as we are treated to a montage of him feeding the growing plant his blood. In one particularly discomforting shot, an exhausted Seymour lets the plant greedily suck his finger, with the girls’ calypso-rock beat providing an ironic counterpoint. There is an eerie sexual ambiguity of Audrey’s vampire double suckling on Seymour’s body fluids while the real Audrey has her vitality sapped by the domineering dentist. As the audience knows, but Seymour is too self-conscious to realize, Audrey wants nothing more than for Seymour to rescue her from her situation – but he is too busy with his onanistic nocturnal bleedings to notice.

When the plant reaches five feet in height, it finally speaks, launching into the bluesy, "Rock Me Henry" style "Feed Me" number, promising fame, fortune and even Audrey’s love if he’ll only track down some unworthy soul for the plant’s consumption. The plant’s come-on is unmistakably sensual – it undulates suggestively, it strokes and tickles Seymour with its vines, and promises, "A little nookie’s gonna clean up those zits – and you’ll get it!" The plant even implies that it can hypnotize Audrey into falling for him, asking, "What’ll it be? Money, girls – one particular girl? How ‘bout that Audrey? Think it over!" Seymour is still unconvinced, so the plant goes for the hard sell, exclaiming, "A lotta folks deserve to die!" Right on cue, the greasy dentist rides up on his motorcycle, backhanding poor Audrey for some minor infraction. Duly convinced, Seymour makes his way to the dentist’s office with a gun. He cannot bring himself to shoot, but the Scrivello’s addiction to laughing-gas proves conveniently fatal. Thus, the plant gets its first taste of meat, Audrey’s desire for freedom is fulfilled, and Seymour’s romantic competition is removed.

Seymour is confused when Audrey’s reaction to the Orin’s "disappearance" isn’t one of immediate joy. She feels guilty rather than relieved: "If he met with foul play or some kind of terrible accident, then it’s partly my fault, you see, because...secretly, I wished it." She painfully tells Seymour that her poor treatment was no better than she deserved. "I’ve led a terrible life," she says, conflating her sexual activity with her personal worth. She met Orin at a nightclub called "The Gutter," where she used to moonlight in leaner days.

Seymour and Audrey reveal their feelings for one another in the splendid ballad "Suddenly, Seymour." For the first time, Audrey feels valued as a person rather than a sexual object. "You don’t need no makeup," Seymour sings to her, "Don’t have to pretend." It is the most heart-felt and emotionally real moment in the film, which makes the lovers’ downfall all the more tragic. Ironically, in the original version, Audrey’s transition from sexualized bombshell to innocent "real" girl (she even puts on a white dress) spells her doom, a total reversal from the usual tropes of pulp fiction.

Walking on air, Seymour confronts rude reality when Mushnik reveals that he saw Seymour dismembering the dentist’s body. He threatens to turn Seymour in to the police, and gives him the alternative of skipping town, but leaving behind the lucrative secret of the plant’s growth (having been fed, it is now eight feet high). As the chorus girls seductively croon "It’s suppertime," Seymour backs Mushnik into the plant’s reach, and he gets swallowed.

The punishing father figure thus disposed of, there is no one left in Seymour’s life but Audrey and her double - and one of them has to go. Like a closet homosexual, Seymour agonizes over how to live a "normal" life free from his shameful secret. Showered by offers of TV tie-ins and lecture tours, Seymour plans to elope with Audrey and leave the plant to wither. Like a jealous mistress, however, the plant is not to be abandoned so easily, and lures trusting Audrey into its clutches with a masher phone call. Caressing her suggestively, the plant pleads for water, but once in reach, it wraps its python-like vines around her and drags her towards its gaping trap. "Aw, relax, doll, and it'll be easier," it leers, like a rapist cajoling his victim.

In the released version, of course, Audrey is only shaken by the plant’s attack and lives to stand by her man. In the original ending, however, the fusion of Audrey and Audrey II is made explicit by the heroine’s dying request to be given to the plant. "If I’m in the plant, then I’m part of the plant, so in a way, we’ll always be together," she reasons. "You’ll wash my tender leaves," she sings, "You’ll smell my sweet perfume / You’ll water me and care for me / You’ll see me bud and bloom…" Seymour’s frustrated desires – his dirty little secrets – have taken over. The substitute has destroyed the original, completing the Mephistophelean, black magic bargain struck when Seymour offered the plant his blood and the name of his true love. Instead of a wedding night carrying Audrey over the threshold of their little house in the suburbs, he carries her through the back doors of the shop and into the waiting jaws of the hungry plant.

But Seymour must still confront his anima in the climactic rock number, "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space." By this point the plant is unabashedly malevolent, and unmistakably a monster female. (After eating Audrey, the plant’s mouth turns from purple to livid red, the color of passion, of blood, of fire.) The epithet "motherfucker" is shortened to just "mother;" the plant humiliates the nerd by pulling down his trousers, and even tries to geld him: "I’m gonna bust your balls!" it rages. The plant gives birth to tiny clones of itself and swallows poor, redundant Seymour, playing out every man’s (supposedly) worst fear: re-absorption into the all-devouring trap.


Pixie said...

i Must see this...
mummy , daddy, i want to go to seventh ring of hell, please can i go? i have the permission slips right here... all my freinds are going...

Anonymous said...

finally someone gets it, i've been thinking the same think for years, feel bad i just found this blog a year after it was posted. great stuff love to chat direct, love to hear from you~